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On the foreskin question: circumcision and psychoanalysis

Osserman, Jordan Harold; (2018) On the foreskin question: circumcision and psychoanalysis. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Male circumcision is a potent receptacle for fantasy. Whatever its medical benefits or harms, the significance of the practice has always extended to questions beyond the purely organic. By placing specific moments in the history of circumcision into dialogue with psychoanalytic theory, this dissertation demonstrates how circumcision is an inherently ambivalent procedure that enables multitudinous and contradictory responses to the constitutive encounter with lack to be played out on the site of the penis. Through circumcision – whether actual or spectral – the penis is put into relation with the symbolic phallus, allowing the organ to function as an image upon which fundamental questions of subjectivity may be posed. The dissertation begins with an introduction to the relevant psychoanalytic theory on castration, sexual difference, and the phallus, and then examines the extant historical, critical, and psychoanalytic literature relating to circumcision. Subsequently, three case studies are explored, over the course of four chapters: First, St. Paul’s abrogation of Jewish circumcision and its undertheorized role in debates surrounding “Pauline” universalism, considered from the divergent perspectives of Alain Badiou and Daniel Boyarin. Second, the nineteenth-century Anglo-American medicalization of circumcision (promoted as a cure for nervous illness), and the relationship between the “talking cure” and the “circumcision cure.” Finally, the libidinal undertones of contemporary political discourse, activism, and popular sentiment on circumcision. In each case, stances and controversies surrounding circumcision reveal a preoccupation with the question of phallic mastery in the face of lack. Circumcision figures either as an attempt to consolidate mastery – denying or repudiating castration – that at the same time reveals the inherent impossibility of such an enterprise, or, it foregrounds castration, often provoking defensive responses.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: On the foreskin question: circumcision and psychoanalysis
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10041872
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